Germany’s ‘Brown Babies’: The Difficult Identities of Post-War Black Children of GIs

Posted in Articles, Europe, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2011-09-26 00:25Z by Steven

Germany’s ‘Brown Babies’: The Difficult Identities of Post-War Black Children of GIs

Speigel Online International

Stephanie Siek

Rosemarie Pena’s identity document after her adoption. “Many of us never knew we were adopted, and many of us thought we were the only one,” Pena said. Her adoptive parents changed her name to Wanda Lynn Haymon. After discovering she was adopted, she reclaimed her birth name.

For many of the now-adult children of white German women and African-American GIs, adopted by families in the United States after World War II, the search for the truth has been difficult. Online communities are helping.

Rudi Richardson knew something about what it meant to be a black man in the United States. But after being deported to Germany, the country where he was born, shortly before his 47th birthday, he had to start figuring out what it meant to be black and German—in a land he barely remembered and whose language he didn’t speak.

He started life as Udo Ackermann, born in a Bavarian women’s prison in 1955. His mother, a Jewish woman named Liesolette, was serving a prison term for prostitution. His father, whom he never met, was an African-American serviceman named George. Rudi was given up for adoption.

Like thousands of other postwar children with black GI fathers and white German mothers, Richardson was raised by an African-American military family in the US. He has spent his life trying to find where he fits in.

Born in an era when Germany was still grappling with its responsibility for the Holocaust and when the US Army had a policy of not acknowledging paternity claims brought against its soldiers stationed abroad, some of these children were put up for adoption in the United States. At the time, Germany judged itself incapable of absorbing these “brown babies”—as they have come to call themselves. In the late 1940s and 1950s, efforts were made to match them with African-American military families, many of whom were stationed around Germany at the time…

…But Cardwell, who is writing a book about his experiences, has learned that his own story is not that simple. Brought to the United States as a four-year-old and adopted by an African-American couple in Washington D.C., he was raised believing that he was a very light-skinned black man. It was not until he began trying to find his biological parents as an adult that he discovered his mother was a half-German refugee from Poland, and his father was native Hawaiian who was classified as “colored” by the military because of his skin color.

“I’ve been run out of white people’s houses: ‘Who’s this black person you’re bringing in here?’ I’ve been run out of black people’s houses: ‘Who’s this white person you’re bringing in here?'” Cardwell said of his adolescence and early adulthood. “There is no belonging, which is what brown babies sought most.”…

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